CPSC's Scorching Mistake

Government delays a safety recall because hoops weren't jumped through.

It's long been standard practice for government regulations to make problems worse than they were before the regs were written.  To name but one example, the BP "Deepwater Horizon" oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico was far worse than it had to be because government regulations made it impossible to clean up the mess efficiently.

Now the Wall Street Journal is telling us how the venerable and supposedly right-on "Consumer Product Safety Commission" (CPSC) made Samsung's Galaxy cellphone "Burning Batteries" issue worse, and therefore deadlier, than it had to be.

Samsung has shipped more than 2.5 million Note 7 smart phones to customers in at least 10 countries since their August 19 launch.  The global press soon started carrying reports that the new model could catch fire while charging the battery.

This turned out to be true, and Samsung took the issue seriously: On September 2, Samsung said it would recall all the phones because of the battery problem.

On September 14, Samsung offered a software update for Korean users that would limit battery charge to 60%.  While this is inconvenient, it seems to prevent batteries from catching fire.  For most users, this would probably be preferable to getting a new phone and having to reinstall all their data; the patch gives them the choice of patiently waiting for a new and improved battery at the cost of a little inconvenience.

Alas, this temporary fix is not available in the US - thanks to the CPSC.

In announcing the recall, however, experts say, the South Korean company appears to have neglected to first coordinate with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. According to U.S. law, the agency must be notified within 24 hours after a safety risk has been identified, and recall announcements are generally then carried out jointly with the CPSC.

In other words, a company has to get federal permission before announcing a recall?  What if a problem comes up on Friday after all the bureaucrats have gone home?  Must the recall wait while people die until the CPSC gets its act together?

That seems to be the case; what's odd is that Samsung didn't wait:

"This is completely unusual; companies just don't issue recalls without the CPSC," says Pamela Gilbert, a partner with Washington's Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca LLP and a former executive director of the CPSC. If a company cooperates and contacts the CPSC first, the CPSC can issue a warning to consumers immediately, and then issue a recall after determining how to fix the problem, Ms. Gilbert says.

As a result, the software update that it has offered to customers in South Korea won't be available in the U.S. while the company continues its negotiations with federal officials on a resolution.

That's great, just great!  Samsung's software update won't solve the problem, but it does reduce battery fires while they work out a permanent solution.  Our wondrous CPSC, however, won't let them even attempt to mitigate the damage until the Feds finish straining at gnats.

CPSC turned us into a nation of book-burners, and now this.  Thanks again, Your Tax Dollars!

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments

Our government has made a lot of money shaking down companies that commit some sort of transgression for a bunch of money. The easiest marks have been US banks , car companies, and foreign companies that do business in the US ( think BP and VW). The last thing they want is for the problem to be resolved before the trial lawyers can open up the veins. Samsung is learning this the hard way. They better lawyer up.

September 18, 2016 9:40 PM

@bsinn How right you are! Our politicians are imitating Mr. Spitzer who perfected the art of bringing newsworthy bogus charges and rode the publicity to the governor's office.

http://www.scragged.com/articles/king-george-rides-again points out that Mr. Spitzer wasn't the only politician who does this. We are no longer a nation of laws, we now have gangster government.

September 20, 2016 6:47 PM

How, I wonder, do the Borg's mindless morons ever sleep and/or not realize their sitting around on their fat bottoms while dreaming up schemes of bastardy to baffle the brainy and to stifle the creative, the innovative, the productive, the industrious -- and all the rest of us -- defines evil?

September 25, 2016 4:18 PM
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